What is manipulation?

What is manipulation and how it is used in business communication

This article will help you recognize manipulation and apply protection against it.

Manipulation refers to a type of psychological influence of one individual on another in order for the latter to do the will of the former.

Manipulation in business communication is often used during negotiations, during management.

It is noted that in modern business sphere in Russia almost the norm is considered the use of fraud in the work. There are many registered cases of unfair business practices such as breach of contract, fraud, falsification of financial documents, etc.

During the implementation of most fraudulent transactions at some point, there is direct contact between the participant in the fraud and the representative of the deceived party. Based on this, we can say that misleading another person through manipulative influence is an integral part of dishonest business operations. Awareness of the issues of manipulative influence, its specifics and mechanisms can help in resisting fraud, as well as allow to competently build a defense strategy against them.

Manipulation: definition, objectives and specifics

The concept of “manipulation” came from the Latin word “manipulus”, which means handful. Its first meaning was manual control or manual action. In the future, the term was given a figurative meaning and already had the meaning of an act of influence on people, which is based on covert control over their behavior. The objects of action were no longer objects, but people. And actions were no longer performed by hands, but with the help of other means.

Е. L. Dotsenko gave the most complete definition of manipulation. She identified a number of basic attributes of manipulation:

  • the generic attribute, which is psychological influence;
  • the other person is perceived by the manipulator as a means of achieving personal goals;
  • The desire for a one-sided gain;
  • the fact of influence and its direction have a hidden nature;
  • manipulation is peculiar to use psychological forces, play on weaknesses.

Manipulation is a form of psychological influence, which is executed skillfully and leads to a hidden desire for another person’s intentions, which do not coincide with his desires, which have an actual existing nature.

It is important to note that the manipulator does everything possible so that the addressee perceives these thoughts, decisions, feelings and actions as his own and not imposed from outside, and also considers himself responsible for them.

Current literature on the psychology of manipulation reveals different aspects of manipulation and defines it as:

  • A type of spiritual influence or covert domination that is enforced;
  • domination over the spiritual state, influence to change the inner world;
  • deceptive indirect influence in the interest of the manipulator;
  • covert influence on the choices being made;
  • the impetus for a particular behavior by deception or by playing on another person’s possible weaknesses;
  • treating another person as an object, an instrument, or a means;
  • latent coercion, programming of intentions, thoughts, attitudes, feelings, attitudes and behavior;
  • influence and control, the use of another in the form of an object or thing.

When integrating the above attributes, it becomes clear that in understanding the essential content of manipulation, a number of important attributes stand out:

  • The idea of dexterity and skillfulness of influence techniques;
  • The idea of implicit hidden influence;
  • the idea of maintaining the illusion of independence of the object of manipulative influence;
  • the idea of turning the object of manipulation into a docile and obedient tool;
  • the idea of negative evaluation of manipulative influence.

The manipulator decides for the addressee of influence what to do and tries to influence his goals in his own interests.

The main feature of manipulation is that it is impossible to immediately detect the fact of manipulation. Often the person realizes that he or she did not make the decision himself or herself, but acted in someone else’s interests, after a very long time. The main signs of manipulation are deception and lying. If something was taken from a person by force or coercion, it cannot be considered manipulation. But if a person gives something of himself or herself and even asks to accept his or her gift, it may be manipulation.

The premise of manipulation

Manipulation, like any psychological phenomenon, could not arise by itself. There are certain forces and conditions that facilitate or directly bring it to life. And there are always people whose active position triggers these forces and conditions.

Rooted in antiquity is the universal context of manipulation.

Most likely, manipulation is a very old phenomenon. As early as the Bible contains the first written mention of cases of manipulation.

It is the situation when the insidious serpent tried to seduce Eve and thereby violate God’s command to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, good and evil, he whispered: “Eat and you shall be as gods,” rather than saying, “Rebel against the Lord.” In doing so he kindled a desire in Eve to taste the forbidden fruit. Eve wanted to break the ban; no one forced her to do so. The result of this story is well known: expulsion from paradise.

Cunning, subterfuge, intrigue in ancient folklore and mythology were considered to be honorable deeds. So, for example, the cunning Odysseus and the Trojan horse, Ivan the Tsarevich and the grey wolf, the Fox Patrykeevna, all these heroes were cunning and scheming. The mythological and fairy tale cultural background not only receives favorable treatment of cunning and subterfuge, but also makes them encouraged virtues. The general cultural background perceives struggle as a value and cunning as an example of a possible means of waging it. So the concept of trickery can be replaced by manipulation, and the meaning remains the same.

If we consider manipulation from the perspective of the social context, the phenomenon consists in the division of society into “us” and “them,” “our own” and “others. During the implementation of the mechanism of social stratification, important and sufficient prerequisites for manipulation are simultaneously formed in society. The most favorable of these are created during the transition to a market economy.

Another type of manipulation context is the interpersonal context. The interpersonal level during live communication allows the realization of two tendencies – universal and social. The universal tendency refers to the intersection of aspirations to unite people on the basis of an intimate “I-You” kinship. At the heart of the social trend is the use of man as a means of satisfying his interests. And here it is possible for the equal subjects of communication to become rivals. And in a situation where during communication it is not possible to outplay the opponent, and it is still impossible to suppress him, then there are prerequisites for the emergence of manipulation.

The main feature of manipulation is that the person is perceived during the psychological impact as a thing. And this is the main difference between manipulation and actualization. E. Sjostrom, the American psychologist and representative of the humanistic tendency, said that the difference between manipulative and actualization is the difference between the “I-This” relationship and the “I-You” relationship. In his view, during manipulation, interpersonal relations are built according to the principle of “THIS – THIS. That is, when a person sees “THIS” (a thing) in another, he inevitably becomes “THIS” (a thing) himself. Thus, a thing can be dismembered, it can be manipulated without damaging its nature. But things are very different with man. Unlike the manipulation of the thing, manipulation of a person is harmful to him, deforming his personality. And while in the past there were few cases of manipulation in the form of psychological influence, today we can see that manipulation is becoming a total phenomenon.

Э. Fromm, a famous social psychologist, considered manipulation in a market economy. It is inherent in the reproduction of manipulative relations on a mass scale, transferring market relations into the realm of interpersonal relations. According to Fromm, the most common type of social orientation in modern Western society is the market orientation, which has a profound attitude toward oneself and others as a commodity. And the value of this commodity is measured by exchange value. And since the commodity is a thing with which manipulation is possible, here manipulation begins to be perceived as a universal and habitual phenomenon, and so it ceases to be noticed.

There is special literature that teaches manipulation techniques. There are literary publications that produce books with titles such as: “Manipulation during Business Negotiations,” “How to Influence People,” “How to Learn to Manipulate People,” etc.

The most interesting thing about this is that readers themselves do not even suspect that by purchasing such literature, they become victims of manipulation themselves, since manipulation is destructive not only to the person to whom it is directed, but also, of course, to the manipulator himself.

The peculiarity of the intrapersonal context of manipulation is not the integrity of the inner world of the individual. It is characterized by an inner plurality of “I”. The intrapersonal “I” is a multivoiced chorus of aspirations, intentions, doubts, desires, hopes, etc. One side of them is driven by high human needs, while the other side is driven by neurotic needs, such as the desire for dominance, control, self-assertion at someone else’s expense. And here the main prerequisites for manipulation are not the integrity of the inner world, the contradictions between inner urges, desires and possibilities.

Causes of manipulation

Specialists dealing with manipulative influence identify a number of psychological reasons that contribute to the emergence of manipulation as a phenomenon. Among them are intrapersonal conflicts, distrust of other people, inability to love, fear of close interpersonal contacts, feeling of helplessness, and desire for approval from others.

Э. Schostrom described the destructiveness of manipulation in his work “Anti-Carnegie, or The Manipulative Man. Comparing manipulation and actualization, Schostrom found a number of reasons for manipulation that are in the realm of psychology. And among these are noted:

  • Mistrust of both self and others, which leads to an endless desire to exercise control over the situation, to control it. For example, a manipulative manager, who does not trust his employees, can develop prescriptions and demand their clear implementation, thereby depriving his employees of the right to act independently;
  • Replacing love, which is difficult to obtain, with power, which can be obtained by violence. There is room for a false postulate: the more perfect and better a person is, the more deserving of love he is. Many people accept, instead of acceptance-love, to receive acceptance-submission;
  • People are manipulated by demonstrating their passivity. The main reason for this manipulation is a feeling of helplessness in the face of life’s turmoil;
  • The desire to hide from open communication and the fear of interpersonal contact. It is characteristic of such a person to hide the real self behind a mask of various unnatural emotions. He may hide behind common patterns of behavior or etiquette;
  • The desire to get everyone’s approval, to fill the lack of inner confidence in the correctness of their actions and states. Thus, the person tries various ways to get the approval of others.

According to E. Shostrom, the manipulator is a person who is characterized by a ritualistic attitude toward people, avoiding an open attitude toward them. The manipulator’s goal is to get what he wants, but not to lose his positive image among others, to avoid resentment, resentment, anger, and revenge.

Modern neurotic society is more comfortable for manipulators to exist than actualizers.

What is manipulation?

We encounter manipulation all the time, and sometimes we abuse it ourselves, knowingly or unknowingly. The harms of manipulation can be significant: from free work or loss of money to the destruction of our personal lives, careers, and various psychological disorders.

Manipulation also harms the manipulator himself. Instead of building harmonious relationships, he spends all his energy trying to influence people, losing family and friendships.

In this article, we will tell you what manipulation is, what types of manipulation exist and how to disarm the manipulator.

What is psychological manipulation

Psychological manipulation is the unobvious coercion of a person to certain actions. The victim of manipulation may not realize that he is being manipulated, but always feels an unpleasant aftertaste – negative emotions – guilt, fear, anxiety, insecurity.

A still from the movie Wag the Dog (1997). The PR-service of the President manipulates the public consciousness with the help of a “duck” about the attack of the extremists. Source: kinopoisk.ru

Types of manipulation are very different and can be encountered in any sphere – in the family, at work, in friendship circles. Sometimes entire groups of people become victims, for example when it comes to mass propaganda or information warfare. Whether one person or a thousand is manipulated, there are certain characteristics that distinguish manipulation.

  • Manipulation only causes harm to its victims. It can be both direct harm – loss of money or other valuables – as well as moral repression, a waste of a person’s resources, time, and energy.
  • The manipulator’s goal is hidden. They do not explicitly state their intentions, and sometimes their true motives are difficult to determine. This is what distinguishes manipulation from overt aggression.
  • The manipulator needs the victim to make the decision to take the necessary action himself. For example, the manager does not directly ask for additional work, but speaks of your value as an employee and that only you can save the company from bankruptcy.

The American psychotherapist Everett Shostrom, in his book “Anti-Carnegie, or Manipulator Man” describes the manipulator as someone who perceives himself and others not as individuals, but as objects. He becomes a slave to his thirst to control everyone around him. And the more he seeks to control others, the greater his need to be controlled. Schostrom calls this the paradox of the manipulator.

How is manipulation different from asking?

The types of manipulation are so varied that there is a danger of becoming too suspicious. We tell you how to tell the difference between manipulation and a normal request.

  • Manipulation does not consider your interests or benefits. For example, “Would you mind giving me a ride if it’s convenient for you?” – is a request. “Good for you, you have a car, but I suffer every morning on the bus” is manipulation.
  • The manipulator is playing on your feelings, seeking to arouse pity, fear, or anxiety. “Could you stay late to finish a project today?” – the request. “If you don’t finish the project today, we’ll lose the customer and everyone will go without a bonus” is manipulation.
  • When you are asked, you always have a choice to agree or not. The manipulator does not tolerate rejection. “Please, let’s talk.” – request. “If you leave, I’ll die” is manipulation.

A still from the movie Dangerous Liaisons (1988). A bored aristocrat manipulating people for fun. Source: kinopoisk.ru

A still from the film “Emma.” (Emma., 2020). The main character is trying to arrange her friend’s marriage with the help of manipulation. Source: kinopoisk.ru

Can manipulation be positive?

In addition to manipulation, which negatively affects people’s lives, psychologists distinguish another type of manipulation – positive manipulation. These are harmless tricks used in everyday life for the benefit of others. For example, a mother uses tricks to encourage her children to eat healthy vegetables. Or a friend resorts to tricks to motivate his comrade to play sports together.

Strictly speaking, the field of advertising is also manipulation. For example, “you, who are so smart, successful and handsome, can’t drive an old car, you need a new one” (a sense of pride). And another: “Your child deserves the best, that’s why he needs those $1,000 sneakers” (a feeling of love). Internet marketing courses teach you to analyze your target audience, learn their pains, fears and life priorities. Unscrupulous companies use this data to negatively manipulate people for their own benefit.

Today, however, marketing is becoming more ethical and environmentally friendly. Good advertising offers audiences the things they really need to improve their lives. In this way, advertising followed by sales becomes not a hidden manipulation, but a deal that benefits both parties. The advertiser gets money, and the audience gets a solution to their problem.

Types of manipulation: recognize and reflect

Types of manipulation are classified in different ways, there is no single system. We take apart the most popular ones.

Guilt ridden

A still from the movie Easy Virtue (2008). The mother-in-law manipulates her daughter-in-law to get rid of her. Source: kinopoisk.ru

Everyone feels guilty about at least something. This is what manipulators use to control the actions of another. “Yes, honey, go out with your friends. Of course, the baby has a hard time falling asleep without you. But it’s okay, she’ll cry and go to sleep”-a young mother is unlikely to have fun after saying that, if she goes anywhere at all. Or a classic manipulation of children’s guilt – “we raised you, we did not spare anything, and you (here you can put anything from buying a new iron to the desire to move away from parents).

There are many ways to impose guilt. For example, to portray a grudge, or to give unnecessary gifts or uninvited services, accusing then in ingratitude. Constant guilt cultivated by the manipulator generates a host of other negative emotions – inferiority complex, pessimism, fear. It becomes harder and harder for the person to resist the pressure.

On the feeling of pity

Phoebe Buffay, the protagonist of the series “Friends” (1994-2004), often manipulates on the feeling of pity, referring to the suicide of her mother, although it happened more than 20 years ago. Source: paramountcomedy.com

A still from the cartoon “Kid and Carlson” (1968). “That’s how you live your whole life without a dog!” exclaims Babe, successfully manipulating his parents’ sense of pity.

The manipulator tries to arouse sympathy for himself and thereby gain additional benefits for himself. For example, a colleague at work complains about all kinds of trouble in the family and shifts some of his work to you.

“Martyrs” demand special treatment for themselves everywhere and in everything, while making no attempt to fix anything in their lives. Even more, they can also manipulate long past events – “Since my husband left me (10 years ago), I feel empty, and you can’t give me time.”

On Love

A still from the film Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008). Javier Bardem’s character skillfully manipulates three women to date them at the same time. Source: kinopoisk.ru

“If you don’t meet my expectations, I won’t love you,” or the reverse “If you don’t act the way I want you to, you don’t love me” is another kind of cruel manipulation that is often applied to those closest to you, such as children or spouses. “I don’t want such a son,” says the mother to the child who has become unruly, and often does not even realize that this is the real manipulation. Or a spouse demanding to buy her an expensive dress with the words “if you love me.

On friendship

A still from the TV series Dr. House (House, M.D., 2004-2012). Dr. House constantly manipulates Dr. Wilson’s friendship feelings, but does not seek to help in return. Source: kinopoisk.ru

A still from The Big Bang Theory (2007-2019). Sheldon Cooper constantly manipulates his friends into granting him wishes and even taking care of him during his illness. Source : kinopoisk.co.uk

Does your friend turn to you all the time when he’s not feeling well, but is hard to reach if you’re suddenly in trouble? Constantly criticizes with the words “who else but me will tell you the truth”? All the time asking for something, because “you’re the only one I can really count on,” but he himself to any request excuses himself with things to do? Meet the manipulator again.

Here it is important to understand that the friend, of course, can ask you for a favor, and you should not consider any of his appeal to you as manipulation. But if the friendship is very profitable for one and brings nothing but extra trouble to the other, it is worth analyzing the communication.

On Pride

In the TV series Sherlock (2020-2017). Irene Adler cleverly manipulates Sherlock, urging him to surprise her and prove his genius in order to get the cipher deciphered. Source: anglia.com

A still from the film “Service Affair” (1977). Yuri Grigoryevich Samokhvalov is a vivid example of a manipulator, using flattery to lure the necessary information from his colleagues.

This manipulation is difficult to recognize. You seem to be praised, your virtues are appreciated, your superiority is emphasized. But often behind all this is an attempt to get something from you or to transfer additional responsibilities to you. For example, a colleague with whom you are preparing a project, leaving you the most difficult part – “you are much more competent, better to handle”, or familiar is constantly asking for lunch – “no one cooks better than you.

This does not mean that you are not worthy of praise. But if the list of your strengths is necessarily followed by a request to make someone’s life easier, it is worth looking closely whether the manipulator in front of you.


A still from the film Gaslight (1944). The husband manipulates his wife into a nervous breakdown. Source: kinopoisk.ru

Gaslighting is one of the most extreme forms of manipulation, when we are already talking about real psychological violence. The manipulator makes you doubt your own adequacy by denying things that are obvious or have happened. The victim ceases to trust his own feelings and conclusions and becomes dependent on the mood of the gazlighter.

The term “gaslighting” comes from the adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s play Gaslight (1944). The film’s heroine, played by Ingrid Bergman, was manipulated by her husband, who rearranged things around the house, dimmed the lights in her rooms and assured her that she was only imagining things.

Domestic gaslighting can also manifest itself in the fact that you are made to look worse than you are. For example, on just one lateness an acquaintance may notice that this is typical of you. Or a wife to her husband’s inattention exclaims “you never listen to me.”

The Surprise Effect

The manipulator forces you to make an urgent decision, leaving no time for reflection. This technique is often used by all sorts of scammers who call and extort access to bank accounts. They are counting on you to panic and lose your ability to think straight. To counter such threats, it’s not unreasonable to have a minimal understanding of cybersecurity.

45 billion ₽ is the amount stolen by phone scammers from Russians in 11 months of 2021.

A still from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 2012). The wizard Gandalf manipulates the hobbit Bilbo’s desire to travel in order to compel him to travel with the dwarves. Source: kinopoisk.ru

How to Resist Manipulation: General Tips

The sooner you recognize manipulation, the easier it will be to resist it. Worry when communication with a relative or friend causes irrational feelings of guilt, insignificance or anxiety about events that have not yet or never happened.

Images from Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears, 1979 Georgy Ivanovich, upon learning of Katya’s deception, manipulates his silence to cause her the torment of conscience. Then, when he returns, the “victim,” filled with guilt, utters the crowning “How long I’ve been looking for you.” Source: kinopoisk.ru

We have prepared some tips on how to resist manipulators.

  1. Ignoring. Manipulator needs a reaction, he wants to find a sore point and throw you off balance. Do not react, remain silent or move the topic.
  2. Unexpected move. Respond to the manipulator in a way he doesn’t expect: “yeah, I’m so ungrateful, bad luck for you.”
  3. Straightforwardness. Say you see the manipulation and you will not participate in it. Invite the manipulator to make a direct request of you, assure them that you are willing to help within the limits of your desire and ability.
  4. Countermanipulation. Turn the manipulator’s weapon against him. “I see you’re the one who doesn’t love me, since your feelings are only possible under certain conditions.”
  5. Eliminate the reason. If the person has done you a favor and now rebukes and manipulates you with it, get rid of the debt. Thank him financially and relieve yourself of this burden.
  6. Operate with facts. If you are unfairly accused, for example, of indifference, list the points that deny it.
  7. Keep your distance. This method can be applied to acquaintances or colleagues who are trying to manipulate you. Limit communication as much as possible, or designate a clear subordination and area of responsibility at work.

To get an even better understanding of manipulation, we suggest taking one of the courses below. These are mainly courses about communication – verbal and not only.

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